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Tell Me The Old, Old Story

The Bible is a rich library full of all kinds of writing: poems, songs, letters, history, travel memoirs – and LOTS of stories.

Stories are important in all cultures and faith traditions. A good story is a highly effective way of passing on important messages, highlighting key values, and helping to create a shared understanding of who we are and what matters.

Jesus himself frequently used parables: simple stories designed to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson. He was adept at drawing on familiar contexts, helping his listeners connect with what he was trying to say, and often startling them by drawing a different conclusion than the one they might have expected.

If we’ve grown up in the church, we’ve doubtless heard those parables discussed and retold countless times. And why not? They are an integral part of our faith story.

But 2000 years and roughly 2500 miles put a lot of distance between the original audience and modern British ears. We might need to work a bit harder to understand some of the agricultural metaphors and 1st century AD cultural references, particularly if we were trying to engage an audience more familiar with streaming services than sowing seed, more knowledgeable about working in shops, factories and call centres than in vineyards, or with sheep and pigs.

Of course, I’m not for a minute suggesting that we should forget all those old stories.

We’re blessed with the capacity to use our imagination, to learn and to enjoy stories that go back in time well before Jesus and from every era since.

But perhaps there is a need to tell some new stories, too, to engage new audiences and make the message relevant to our experiences today?

Truth be told, this is all part of human nature. We’re designed to make sense of our world and to use what we know to help us understand and explain big ideas.

You’ll be able to think of plenty of examples, but here are just a few:

  • St Patrick reputedly chose the shamrock to explain the nature of the Trinity;

  • Spanish Christian missionaries are credited with using the passion flower to tell the story of Jesus’ crucifixion;

  • Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, drawing on the Victorian love of Christmas and ghost stories, to make a more important point about the plight of the poor and to encourage wealthier, educated classes to examine their own behaviour.

The internet is a rich source of stories in our modern world. With 24-hour rolling news, an apparently bottomless appetite for finding out about the lives of ‘celebrities’, as well as technology that permits sharing stories in ways that have never before been possible, too often, we seem to focus on the stories that highlight greed, selfishness, pride, deceit, wrongdoing or violence.

But, if we look, there are also stories that celebrate kindness, humility, grace, hope, faith and love. These are the stories we need to tell, the stories we need to share. To quote Paul in Philippians 4,

I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.

In this way, perhaps we will find the ideas and stories which will allow us to point the way for a new generation: “The kingdom of God is like this….”


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